We probably should have seen Connor Betts coming.
Betts killed nine people — including his own sister — during a shooting spree Sunday in Dayton, Ohio. He harbored violent fantasies about raping women and killing classmates. And his dark predilections were no secret. His friends knew. One says she urged him to get counseling. His school knew. He reportedly was once suspended for compiling a hit list of people he wanted to kill. "This isn't a mystery to me," a middle school classmate told reporters. But nobody stopped him from obtaining a firearm and committing a massacre, even though the red flags were there for everybody to see.
There is a danger that, like the warning signs, Betts' murderous misogyny will go unrecognized. The Dayton killings took place just hours after the mass casualty shooting in El Paso, Texas — an event that was ultimately more deadly and, because of that shooter's racist intent, more intimately bound up in the current political debates. The national discussion is mostly centered on white nationalism — and President Trump's relationship to it — which leaves less bandwidth for a discussion of Betts' apparently murderous misogyny.
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But we can't let this happen. We can't talk about mass-casualty violence in America without examining toxic misogyny and violence against women.
As Mother Jones reported earlier this summer — before the Betts attack — at least a third of 22 mass shootings since 2011 featured perpetrators who "had a history of domestic violence, specifically targeted women, or had stalked and harassed women." Together, those attacks claimed 175 lives and injured scores more.
There is a "strong overlap between toxic masculinity and public mass shootings" the magazine reported.
The same is true of toxic masculinity and acts of violence closer to home. Recent research suggests that "intimate partner violence" — when somebody kills their spouse or romantic partner — has been on the uptick in recent years, rising from 1,875 deaths in 2014 to 2,237 deaths in 2017. The victims, unsurprisingly, are overwhelmingly female.
We're not giving this trend nearly enough attention. It's been just more than a year since 10 people were killed in Toronto by a suspect who was allegedly active in the online "incel" community, made up of young men driven to rage by their inability to find female partnership. That attack — and the debate it sparked — has faded gradually from public view.
That shouldn't be the case. What can be done?
The best answer is also probably the most elusive, and will involve a shift in the way our culture and families raise young men. We have to do a better — and very intentional — job of teaching our sons that they are not entitled to women's bodies or attention. That is work that will take a generation or more to show bear fruit.
In the nearer-term — and in the more tangible realm of policy — there are several steps we can take. The first is a ban on assault-style weapons. While it is true that this won't automatically put an end to mass shootings, there is reason to believe that it might reduce the death toll of such attacks. In the Dayton attack, police intervened in under a minute. But in that time, he still managed to kill nine people. Such a ban might anger pro-gun activists, but it has been tried before and found to reduce the number of mass-shooting fatalities. It's time to try again.
Another approach might involve creating new "red flag" laws, of the type that Trump mentioned on Monday and that have long been advocated by conservative writer David French, an AR-15 owner who fiercely defends gun rights. Such laws would create a process to keep guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers, and other people subject to restraining orders — and would possibly answer concerns of activists who in 2016 blocked the creation of a "no buy" list, which lacked due process protections for potential gun owners.
"Depriving them of a gun protects the individuals themselves and the public," French wrote this week. "Providing them due process protects their liberty." Given what was known about Betts even before he opened fire, a process might have saved lives in Dayton.
It is not always the case that a mass shooting can be prevented. There are too many people with too many grievances in a country with too many guns in circulation to account for every scenario. But we ought to be able to keep guns out of the hands of people with well-known violent tendencies. Too often, misogyny and murder go hand-in-hand. It is time to put an end to both.
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